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Valley schools access security

Superintendents express doubts on law arming teachers

Some Mahoning Valley school districts are continuing efforts to change protocols so their buildings are safer for their students, as well as the adults working in and around the facilities.

Superintendents in LaBrae, Lakeview and Niles school districts all say the districts have been doing what they financially are able to improve security in their buildings and on their campuses.

The superintendents also are reacting to the law signed by Gov. Mike DeWine that allows educators to carry guns on school property with only 24 hours of training.

Under the new law, local school district will determine if they want to enable their educators / employees to carry weapons on school properties with the proper training.

Ohio Education Association President Scott DiMauro noted educators need to be in safe environments where they can focus on teaching and learning, not on the threat of having unprepared woefully undertrained people — regardless of their good intentions — making split-second life-or-death decisions about whether to pull the trigger in a chaotic classroom full of innocent bystanders.

“It would take hundreds of hours of training and firearms practice to be ready for those situations; Gov. DeWine says he’s fine with just 24 hours of instruction,” DiMauro said. “It’s absurd.”

Educators should be trusted to do the jobs they’ve gone through years of training to do; instead, they’re being asked to shoulder the burden of potentially shooting one of their own students with just a few days of training, noted the OEA president.

Will Schwartz of the Ohio Schools Boards Association said the organization has not taken a specific position on House Bill 99.

He added, however, local control is a core tenant of the OSBA. It believes school boards in local communities should have the right to make decisions that reflect the ideals of people living in those communities.

LaBRAE

LaBrae Superintendent Anthony J. Calderone said school districts are not required to discuss their protocols to keep people in their buildings safe. But he noted the district annually reviews security protocols and makes necessary adjustments.

“We tend to envision our security plan in the form of layers with one aspect building upon the other,” he said. “Over the course of several years, we have been able to make adjustments to our plan to enhance overall safety.”

The district has communicated some of its safety concerns directly to DeWine’s office.

“Our district has communicated security concerns and ideas to the governor’s office to encourage the state to give consideration to grant funding and school design that improves security,” Calderone said. “We pursued a security grant this winter. The grant was through the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, but Ohio denied the grant. We are now pursuing paying for the project on our own and implementing the feature in the near future.”

The district has one school resource officer who is paid for with the district’s general fund money.

“We’re not intending to add additional officer,” Calderone said.

The superintendent said the last time arming teachers was a focal point related to the school security discussion in Ohio, the LaBrae Board of Education was not in favor of arming staff.

“In the new law, Ohio has lowered the training requirements needed for staff to carry a weapon,” Calderone said. “Districts will tread cautiously under the new regulations to ensure that making such a choice is in their best interests locally, as this is not a black or white issue, but a very nuanced issue that is more complicated than it appears on the surface.”

LAKEVIEW

Lakeview Superintendent Velina J. Taylor noted the district was doing several things to improve security in its buildings prior to her becoming the superintendent.

The district installed a second set of entry doors at the high school to better control who gets into the building. It used grant money to improve communication systems for all staff so that in the event of an emergency they are not dependent on phones.

“Of course, as required, we complete and review our emergency operations plans for the district and for our individual buildings at least once a year,” Taylor said.“This is a collaborative process that involves safety service personnel as well as our staff, so key players who would be involved in an emergency are in the loop with district plans.”

This is not the first time the idea of arming teachers has been pushed in the state.

“Frankly, I don’t see arming staff as a viable solution at this time,” she said.

Taylor said she believes when district employees return in the fall, they will be more diligent in their safety measures.

“As these horrific killings occur, we are reminded that one can never be too careful when it comes to the safety of self and others,” she said.

NILES

Niles Superintendent Ann Marie Thigpen described the district installing a vestibule area at its middle school.

“The middle school was built before the other three new Niles buildings, which had vestibule areas designed in their builds,” she said. “We created a new entrance for visitors that takes them into a waiting area and not into the school or office.”

Thigpen said the district is researching a security window firm’s product to place on the glass doors at the entrances of all of its buildings.

The district is looking to increase the number of school resource officers from one full-time and a second person who works four hours per day to having two full-time SROs.

Arming teachers is not something Thigpen expressed enthusiasm to do.

“I am concerned about bringing guns into our schools and arming staff members,” she said.

TRUMBULL COUNTY ESC

Superintendent Michael Hanshaw of the Trumbull County Educational Service Center emphasized it is up to individual school districts to develop school emergency management plans that are sent the state for review and approval.

Hanshaw suggests these plans cannot be discussed publicly to maintain their integrity and provide the highest level of safety and security as possible

“As educators we are well aware of the concerns of our students and their parents, our staff and communities at large,” he said. “Trumbull County ESC and our aligned school districts take tremendous care in developing and revisiting safety plans and working with our staff and community leaders, including law enforcement and their emergency management personnel, to prioritize the safety and well-being of the more than 24,000 Trumbull County students we collectively serve and represent.”

WARREN

Superintendent Steve Chiaro, the leader of Trumbull County’s largest public school district, declined to discuss the district’s security measures.

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